One of the highlights of Friday’s sessions at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference was a pair of forums for the candidates for the GOP governor’s nomination.
The nine candidates were split into two forums. The first featured Lou Barletta, Melissa Hart, Doug Mastriano, Dave White and Nche Zama. The second seated Jake Corman, Joe Gale, Charlie Gerow and Bill McSwain.
While the main targets for the candidates during their allotted time were Governor Tom Wolf and presumptive Democratic candidate for governor and current Attorney General Josh Shapiro, there were some barbs tossed around at the others on or off the stage.
Mastriano, the state senator from Franklin County, talked about election integrity. He said, “if there was a desire to do a forensic audit (on the 2020 election), it would have been done by now. Politicians shouldn’t have meddled. Josh Shapiro needs to open the books. We have to take our state back.” When asked about electability, he said that “Democrats are switching parties to join us because we have bold, proven leadership. Under Mastriano, Pennsylvania will become a Republican state.”
White said that Wolf and Shapiro were complicit in the COVID-19 deaths of elderly in nursing homes due to their policies. “Shapiro never lifted a finger to help the elderly or businesses that were shut down,” he said. He also was exasperated by the lack of movement in Harrisburg when it comes to school choice. “We’ve been talking about school choice for 25 years,” he said. “We need a business guy that depends on results. In Harrisburg, if you don’t get results, you get reelected.”
When asked about the proposed debate rules agreed upon by the Barletta, Corman, McSwain and White campaigns, Hart stated that “each one of us will need to defend our positions. It is important to come across (to voters) as willing to answer. When challenged, it is an opportunity for us to show our differences and display how we can succeed.”
Zama talked about numerous problems in the Commonwealth. “Pennsylvania is sick and needs a doc,” said the cardiac surgeon. “If you recognize sickness, make a diagnosis. Only then can you seek solutions. They won’t come on the wheels of inevitability. When Pennsylvania stops succeeding, the world suffers.”
Barletta said that he has learned lessons from his failed 2018 Senate bid against Bob Casey. “(Running in 2018) wasn’t a liability. It put me in a better position to win,” he commented. “Timing is everything. We now have a statewide network. We haven’t advertised and we’re still at the top of the polls.”
Hart talked about her past successes. “It’s important for us as conservatives in Pennsylvania to elect someone who can get elected in the general,” she responded to a question. “I have won six elections in democratic-leaning districts.”
White asked a rhetorical question – “how do we beat Josh Shapiro? Be the total opposite of Josh Shapiro. I am his total opposite. I’m a high school graduate, a pipe-fitter who built a business. If I can do it, the people of Pennsylvania can do it.”
Mastriano closed by saying, “this is personal. I’m desperately trying to save our state. I want to be a beacon on the hill.”
Barletta concluded the session on election integrity. “People can now mail in their ballots. They don’t even need to leave the cemetery.”
The second session opened with Gerow making a case for experience. “Ronald Reagan fought the battle for principle,” he said. “He’s a good model. I’ve always fought with a smile on my face. You don’t have to get nasty and vicious to get things done.” He championed his conservative background but added, “I’ve never kissed anyone’s ring and I won’t start now.”
Gale said that the Commonwealth doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a cost problem. “We have the worst roads in the country with the highest gas taxes.”
Corman tipped his cap to the former president, noting that “the GOP is changing and we owe Donald Trump for that.” “He brought in new blue-collar and minority voters.” When queried about school choice, he responded that we “have to empower parents. Know what’s being taught in school. When we leave a generation of students uneducated, they are never truly free.”
McSwain went on record that he “would absolutely enforce the death penalty” for the 108 people currently on death row. “Who is (Tom Wolf) to step in and act like king and say the jury decision will not be carried out.” He went on to say that Pennsylvania “needs to repeal Act 77 and institute voter ID. We (currently) have an unconstitutional system that the legislature voted in. Not me.” He also praised Florida governor Ron DeSantis as someone he admired. “We have nearly the exact resume and background. I would love to be a version of him. The career politician carousel has to end.”
Gale, an admitted “flame-thrower,” said that he “puts people before politics. That’s the only coalition I’m concerned with. Anyone who voted for Act 77 should be disqualified from holding office or being promoted to higher office.” He referred to Mastriano as “Mail-In Doug,” stating that he is “telling the uncomfortable truth.”
Gerow concluded that he differs from DeSantis, as he never went to Harvard and “he’s pretty proud of that. I believe that we are in a battle for the heart and soul of the nation. We can’t afford to lose.”
Corman finished by praising South Dakota governor Kristi Noem and that he is not running “to have power, but to protect your power and freedoms.”
“Republican candidates had a whopping three minutes to answer hand-picked questions by fellow Republicans and yet they still didn’t focus on tackling the issues facing Pennsylvanians,” said Pennsylvania Democratic Party spokesperson Marisa Nahem. Instead, candidates championed the Big Lie, spewed anti-worker talking points, praised Trump, and attacked each other over their MAGA credentials.
Six of the seven GOP Senate candidates will hold a forum on Saturday. Dave McCormick will not be in attendance.
updated to include Nahem statement